The AQE has apologised for “the distress caused” after cancelling the transfer test for P7 pupils which had been rescheduled for February 27.
The single test was scheduled after the three tests due to take place in January were called off.
And in categorically stating that there would be no test in this academic year, Dr Darrin Barr, joint CEO of the AQE, said “every possible avenue” had been explored to allow pupils to sit the test this year.
“The Chief Medical Officer’s words on Tuesday night were very concerning about the prospect of further extended lockdowns and home learning beyond February,” said Dr Barr.
“The Board of the AQE agreed unanimously that to end uncertainty for children we would cancel the test.
“I’d like to apologise for the way we have handled the announcement last week. I realise that caused distress to children, and six hours later announcing we would hold a test on February 27."
Education Minister Peter Weir said there would be disappointment and the cancellation will “severely limit” parental choice.
“I am disappointed that AQE will not be operating a test this year on the grounds of public health,” he said.
“This will also be very disappointing for many pupils and parents.
“This decision by AQE makes it an impossibility for any such test to happen. It is clear that public health and the wider Covid-19 situation has prevented the transfer test taking place this year.
“Transfer tests have never been compulsory for any school nor any student, but what they have provided for many has been parental choice and opportunity for children to gain a place at a post primary school of their choosing. Today’s announcement diminishes that choice significantly.
“In view of the ongoing public health situation, I had recommended to Boards of Governors that they should prepare contingency criteria in the event the transfer tests did not go ahead.
“These criteria should be finalised soon by schools and will be published by the Education Authority on February 2. However, in light of the changes today, we are extending the date for schools to submit final admissions criteria to the Education Authority, until January 22. My officials will issue further correspondence to schools.
“Schools still have the opportunity to use either non-academically selective criteria or alternative data as a proxy for academic selection, but neither route is without its difficulties, and our previous guidance that they seek clear advice before they determine their course of action remains.
“Along with my Department, I stand ready to continue to work with all schools in the difficult circumstances created by the current health situation.”
In a statement the AQE said it was cancelling the test “due to the ongoing uncertainty about the potential for an extended period of lockdown.
“The health and safety of the children due to sit the exams is our top priority.
“We will be writing to parents individually over the coming days to confirm these arrangements. We wish to thank the Minister for Education, his officials and the Education Authority for their support”.
A number of grammar schools had already said they would not use the test to select pupils this year.
Dr Graham Gault, President of the NAHT said it was “not a happy day”.
“Many of our Year 7 children have simply been failed,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“There has been nine months to develop a plan B for exactly this eventuality and, for no conceivable reason, nothing has been done.”
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said that though many will be disappointed, the right decision had been reached.
“Children, parents and schools have worked hard to prepare for this test and I understand that many will be disappointed it has now been cancelled,” she said.
“This, albeit too late in the day and following rollercoaster decision making, is the right decision for our children.
“It is unfortunate that we are in this situation,” she added.
“I called for discussions on alternative arrangements to begin last Spring like they did for GCSEs and A Levels. It is disgraceful they did not.
“It is my expectation the relevant authorities will now undertake work to make sure children and parents have confidence in the transfer from primary to post primary schools for all children.”
Northern Ireland Premium
Peter Weir faced a barrage of questioning from Stormont’s Education Committee on Wednesday as concerns continued over exams, remote learning and the safety of special schools remaining open.